The coalition is ending the social contract

 

By Matt Hawkins

What did Aristotle, Thomas Hobbes, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Thomas Paine, and Tony Benn all have in common? Queue the worst punchline ever: they all believed that government was bound by a ‘social contract’ to act for and in the interests of its citizens (you were warned).

Whilst pre-contract society was lawless and, according to Hobbes, “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”, the social contract – signed between the public and the government – was meant to guarantee protection by the state and a decent standard of living for all.

Today Britain can feel more like the lawless society described by these political thinkers than the mature state that was supposed to have evolved in its wake. Life might not yet be ‘short’, but for many it can certainly feel solitary, poor, nasty and brutish.

If the government’s heartless approach to reforming the Disability Living Allowance and toughening welfare conditionality is anything to go by, it seems that you have to be perpetually superhuman – never unwell and never out of work – in order to be entitled to even a basic level of income.

Never-mind the fact that individuals can hardly be blamed when every new job attracts enough applicants to fill a small Hampshire village or working all the hours that Iain Duncan Smith demands still doesn’t bring home enough money to pay the bills.

Indeed, it is those born with the twin attributes of money and political influence who thrive in this Brave New World – just as it was those born with the benefits of brute strength who prospered in Hobbes’ ‘Old World’.

The reason we no longer have a right to a job or decent welfare support when we’re out of work is, quite simply, because making such guarantees would clash with the corporate giants that have come to hold huge political influence.

As Naomi Klein documented in her book No Logo, while a burgeoning number of employees was once seen as the hallmark of a successful business, cutting jobs and slashing wages are the new gold standard that help companies to drive up ‘efficiency’. Jobs that once provided stable incomes in the UK are being packaged off to economic enterprise zones in Asia where it is easier to pay cripplingly low wages and undercut workers’ basic rights.

Whilst UKIP likes to blame migrant workers for UK job losses – goading the un(der)employed by shouting ‘fight, fight, fight’ as if they’re in a school playground – they should really be pointing the finger at the corporate monoliths that have outsourced all their jobs (and then outsourced them some more). Continue reading

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